(In honor of Oregon Governor Kate Brown proclaiming April as Oregon Tavern Age Month, the blog will feature a full week of OTA stories. A new book of these tales is slated for a fall publication in some atypical publishing format.)
I stood at the threshold of the Jeffers Garden Inn, a modest blue building located on a mysterious industrialized strip in Astoria that in the coming years, might represent the only grit left in Astoria as the onslaught of gentrification continues and tourists clamor for more and better cannabis-infused fudge.
Before I entered, I noticed something adjacent to the joint, unprecedented in OTA country: a miniature golf course, unkempt and blackberry-ridden for sure, but there, impossibly, there. And apparently still playable because putters and golf balls leaned against a wall near the first hole.
I went in and the place was sound asleep. Glorious slumber reigned. No radio, no televisions, no sounds from the Video Lottery machines, no conversations. Two OTA men sat at the bar and read a newspaper upright, the old school way. I hadn’t seen two people reading a newspaper in OTA country for over ten years, let alone upright. It almost brought tears to my eyes.
An elderly woman came up to me and I ordered a can of Rainier. She pulled it from an ancient cooler behind the bar and cracked it open. The crack echoed around the room. The men didn’t look up from the papers. They might have been asleep.
I inspected the back bar. Family pictures and trophies. My kind of décor. No liquor served, just beer and wine. No craft beer. No fancy wines. Wine came in little bottles. I was drinking cheap beer in a real somnolent Oregon tavern and they are almost gone the way OTA Astoria is almost gone.
If a can of Rainier is cracked open in OTA country and no one is around to drink it, what is that sound? We know the sound of one can of Rainier opening, but what is the sound of no Rainier opening in OTA country? I think about these things during these final years of the last Oregon Taverns. I think five are left on the Oregon Coast.
I found myself nodding off so I made the acquaintance of the bartender and talked her up: Betty Chilson has owned the Jeffers Garden Inn since 1979. “It used to be called Mary’s Tavern, but I changed it because I was tired of being called Mary,” she said. As for the miniature golf course, “In 1984 we put it in,” said Betty, “and then it later sort of got away from us. The rain had something to do with that.”
Rain has a way of doing that to persons, places and things in OTA country.
I asked Betty if any celebrities had ever visited. She said back in the 1980s, two celebrities came in and perhaps they were Andy Gibb and Victoria Principal. Or perhaps Johnny Paycheck and Tanya Tucker after gigging the county fair.
One of the newspaper man woke up and ordered a beer. I ordered another Rainier.